Forty-five years ago last month, my fellow graduates and I were walking together across the football field, new diplomas proudly clutched in our hands and tears filling our eyes. We were turning the page to a bold new chapter, although I’m sure that more than a few had absolutely no idea what that chapter was going to be. While the high school curriculum had been replete with Home Ec, Typing, and Metal Shop classes – along with Math, Science and Language – I can’t think of a single one that actually spoke to the “life” skills we would need upon leaving the nest. Nor, for that matter, were my classmates’ parentals providing useful instruction. In my own case, my parents expected me to stay in their well feathered nest until such time as I would marry someone of their choosing and, subsequently, hire others to pay the bills, shop for groceries and manage a household. When instead I defied them by getting my first job at 19 and moving into a studio apartment downtown, I would likely not have survived more than a month of my new-found independence if I hadn’t been shown Life’s ropes (including how to balance a checkbook!) by a bevy of helpful neighbor ladies that were keen to have a “project.”
If I were a student today and on the precipice of graduating from high school or college, my mentor would be Terry Matthews-Lombardo, author of Tried and True Graduation Tips. At 50 pages, it’s a bite-sized read that even your most multi-tasking and short-attention-span offspring can (and should) make time for. Just be sure to buy two copies – one for them to vigorously mark up, yellow-highlight and dog-ear its corners and the spare to give to their kids.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Your new book, Tried and True Graduation Tips, is a must-have guide for students on the threshold of leaving the classroom and learning to navigate the workaday world. Turning back the clock, what were the thoughts, dreams and fears going through your head on your own graduation day?
A: I have this great photo of myself and a group of my best gal-pals at our graduation and we were all smiley and giggly with our gowns flowing in the wind. Every time I look at it I’m reminded of how care-free and exciting that day was for us – mostly because we just felt like the world was awaiting our greatness! But also because, as I recall, we were fearless back then, perhaps more naïve than today’s grads, and certainly more clueless!
Q: At what age did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: I was fortunate to grow up in a family that did a good deal of traveling so at an early age that opened my eyes to the magic of learning about areas beyond my small hometown. The more places I visited the more I wanted to learn about other destinations, so a career in some part of that big wide industry was in the cards for me from the start. I was particularly fascinated by hotels, thus my choice for that major in college.
Q: Who or what had the greatest influence on those aspirations and choices?
A: My mother introduced me to reading James Michener, most of whose books are an incredible travel narrative that served to pique my curiosity about all those places he wrote about. And my father gave me the gift of opening my eyes to the world of travel so it was definitely a family affair.
Q: If you could write a letter to your younger self in high school, what would you say?
A: Dear Terry: If you work hard and play nice through it all, it will be alright in the end, so don’t try to predict the future. Que sera, sera!
Q: Are public and private schools today doing as much as they could/should in terms of offering curriculum in career development?
A: I truly believe they are missing the mark on basic training in Life Management 101. I even mention that in Chapter One of this book! Like it or not, you get enrolled in LM101 the minute you graduate, and most kids are not at all prepared for the basics like managing a budget, understanding the importance of insurance, asking plenty of questions when they don’t understand something, and even time management. Signing up and moving into that first job and/or apartment can be a sobering experience
Q: If you were in charge of that curriculum, what would you do differently?
A: I would definitely include a math class that explains basic finance in terms of matching your expenses against your income, understanding the whole banking process and investment systems, the importance of retirement planning (that seems so distant and useless until it isn’t!), and so much more. Teaching math only in terms of algebra and geometry is useless on so many levels unless, of course, all your students are going to be engineers and physicians. But if you’re heading toward a non-technical professional career, you need real life vision regarding money. I do remember taking economics but the professor was so out of touch and it was all just so boring when it could have been presented in a relevant and meaningful way, applicable to life management.
Q: To what do you attribute your expertise in this area?
A: I have over 35 years of progressively successful professional career experience that includes working for some of the biggest names in corporate America (such as both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios) as well as working for a small startup and an international association. You learn from and grow with each and every job; and all of those lead to my present position as an independent business consultant, writer and speaker. I consider every job I’ve ever held as being part of that training ground, and at some point you look at that body of knowledge and say, “Hey, I really do know what I’m doing here! Time to share some of that knowledge!”
Q: What was your biggest goal in writing this book?
A: To provide some concrete business advice to kids that need it during a vulnerable time in their lives, aka graduation. No matter what field of work they are going into, job interviews will be needed, people skills will be tested, and as I say in the book’s dedication, “You haven’t finished learning yet. The life before you is one open book, so keep reading!”
Q: So what’s your response to those who might say, “My kid just graduated from college. Why would I need to buy another book on this subject?
A: Because this book has some valuable tips and proven counsel for job interviewing, personal financial management, and making that transition from college life into real world living. And no matter how much [parents] have spent on that diploma, for the most part the graduates are not learning these basics in those expensive classes. Plus, this one is cheap and actually useful J
Q: I’m pleased to see that you’ve included information on manners, something that seems to be woefully lacking in today’s younger generation. Is it too late to counteract the combined effects of entitlement (gimme gimme gimme), parental indifference to etiquette rules, and the insularity/anonymity fostered by technology?
A: No, I don’t believe it’s ever too late to encourage civility in one’s training! It does go against the grain of “I don’t need to really talk or communicate with people because I work on a computer all day”, but in the end we all know that every job requires some level of human interaction as does day to day survival. At some point you’ll have a conversation with your landlord. One day you’ll need to buy a car or house. Shoot, even basic things like a trip to the grocery store normally results in human interaction. There’s a new marketing campaign out right now that encourages “dark for dinner” indicating families should all put their cell phones and PDAs aside during one meal each day and, wow, just have a conversation! Brilliant, isn’t it? How great would it be if more kids were brought up with this kind of engagement instead of being glued to their computer screens all day long? There’s such a lack of basic interpersonal communication skills out there right now and it’s great to see this national campaign promoting old fashioned family chatter at the table.
Q: What was your inspiration for those “Author’s Additional Five Cents Worth” tips at the end of the book?
A: I’ve raised two successful kids (yes, beaming with pride) and I gave them both the list of “Ten Things I Wish My Parents Had Told Me When I Was Your Age” which is what I share at the book’s end. I made it very personal and I think every parent should do the same to help their kids feel empowered to ask questions and understand that just because you have a diploma doesn’t mean you have all the answers.
Q: What’s the best graduation present a parent, relative or mentor can give?
A: Good and sage advice – maybe via Tried and True Graduation Tips? (shameless self-promotion!) But seriously, I do include some great gift ideas in Chapter Three, one of which is a decent interview suit. For the most part, the college wardrobe is seldom considered professional, so basic pieces – not fashion statements – are what college grads need right away.
Q: What did you give your own offspring for graduation?
A: My son did get a new suit from us (of course, he picked it out), and my daughter got a new set of luggage because she had already worn out her old stuff and would be doing some business traveling in her new job. (Also, as a fashion major, she already owned a few good suits and presentable interview attire.)
Q: Assuming that college was affordable for everyone, is a university education the best fit for every high school graduate?
A: I don’t think it’s ‘the’ one size fits all answer anymore. There are so many great technical institutes and boutique training options out there specializing in all kinds of unique career paths that I really think if you do your homework (no pun intended) you can find something that’s affordable and makes sense to get you started on your career path. You hear the term niche or target marketing a lot these days and that applies to higher education opportunities as well.
Q: Breaking into the competitive job market starts with having well polished interview skills. What are some of the top interview tips you’ve included in the book?
A: A good self-introduction and a solid handshake are a must, and mastering both usually give you a boost of confidence that will carry through during the entire interview process. Simple but very meaningful and highly effective tools.
Q: Like many authors, you opted for the self-publishing route. What governed this decision and what were the easiest/hardest aspects of donning the DIY hat of author, editor, publisher and marketer?
A: I self published via Amazon/Create Space mostly for two reasons: 1] I knew this was a very short and simple book, and 2] I wanted to test the waters for any future publishing that I do. I currently have several other books in the works (don’t all authors?) and starting out with a short one to test the waters was the path I chose. It’s been an incredible learning experience and true to the advice I kept reading about from other authors, the biggest challenge is doing your own marketing, especially when it’s a non-fiction book. As you’re writing you might think that the formatting, uploads/downloads, cover art and all those elements are the biggest obstacles but then one day you get past all that and have an actual product at which time you turn inward and say, “Whew – I did it!” When in reality, all you did was print a book. I read some sage advice somewhere that basically said an author’s journey is only half done when the book is finished. The next half of the journey is to get someone to read it. So true!
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: Writing is my encore career, and therefore I’m still gainfully employed as a professional meeting planner. But this also allows me to continue traveling, attending conferences, and giving me oh-so-much-more to write about! I’m also constantly getting magazine articles published along with always pitching more ideas. I feel it’s all part of (the necessity of) building your base as a writer, so everything I do now has that for a goal.
Q: Where can readers learn more about your work (and, of course, buy your book!)?
A: I maintain a writer’s website at www.tmlwrites.com and keep a blog going there with interesting posts about my travel and lifestyle stories. I also have a professional blog called the Hospitality Hive which is published via the Orlando Sentinel/Hype Orlando, and in this one I cover all kinds of topics related to the Central Florida Hospitality scene. That link is http://www.hypeorlando.com/hospitality-hive/ I always tell subscribers to not to worry about me clogging their inbox as I only post a couple times per month on each blog site. Personally I get really turned off when I subscribe to something and then get bombarded in the inbox with constant posts, so I struggle with what the right amount is to keep people interested. Plus, I feel if you put out quality instead of quantity the readers will appreciate you more. As for Tried and True Graduation Tips, it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and ereader format. There is a direct link to it on my website, and also at Tried and True Graduation Tips: WHAT WE KNOW FOR SURE ABOUT GRADUATION AND BEYOND
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I love this quote from Mark Twain about becoming a writer: “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” This is so true, and a reminder to me that every word I put on that keyboard counts! I try to write with purpose whether it’s to inform, entertain, or more often both because I think life can be a pretty serious journey. I also believe that everyone has a great story (or two) to tell, and I just hope that people are interested in mine!